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This year, it’s Philly charter schools’ turn to wrestle with budget cuts

By the Notebook on Aug 30, 2012 07:48 AM
Photo: Benjamin Herold

Dean of students Dean Seger addresses 5th graders at Mastery-Mann Charter Elementary School in Wynnefield

By Benjamin Herold
for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

Like a hurricane predictably making its way up the coast, the financial storm that battered the Philadelphia School District last year is now taking its toll on the city’s 80 charter schools.

Some charter leaders are now speaking out about the damage.


Listen to Benjamin Herold's radio report

In the wake of a billion-dollar drop in state funding over the past two years and the hundreds of millions in District cuts that followed, all of Philadelphia’s charters were hit this year with a more than 7 percent reduction in the per-pupil payment that sustains them. That comes out to roughly $700 per child, or a loss of about $400,000 for a typical school of 600 students.

Already, many city charters have responded with layoffs and salary freezes. They have also cut afterschool programs, extracurricular activities, and supply budgets.  Small, standalone charter schools are being hit the hardest. 

But even Pennsylvania’s largest charter school manager warns that the cuts are threatening educational quality and are exacerbating already huge disparities between affluent and poor schools.  So Mastery Charter Schools, which operates 11 Philadelphia charters serving roughly 8,000 students, is lobbying for more funding.

“In wealthier suburban districts, [schools] are getting in some cases three times the reimbursement rate we’re getting here in Philadelphia,” said Scott Gordon, Mastery CEO.

“We’re going to fight to make sure we get adequate resources,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, the amount of funding that a charter school receives depends on how much the local school district spent per pupil the previous year. Many have argued that this system is unfair. Next month, the state legislature is expected to revisit a number of possible reforms related to the funding of state charter schools.  Those bills narrowly missed becoming law in June. 

In the meantime, says Lawrence Jones, president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, charter schools in Philadelphia and across the state are going to have to make do.

“Charter schools are going to have to do one of the things we were intended to do,” he said. “Be more efficient and find ways to serve [students] in a leaner and more creative way.”

Progress is threatened

At Mastery-Mann Elementary in the city’s Wynnefield section, signs of the cuts aren’t immediately evident.

Mastery’s school year still started more than a week earlier than the district’s. On the second day of school, enthusiasm ran high as the school’s 5th graders filed into Mann’s cafeteria for their first “community meeting” of the year. 

Mann is one of nine struggling District schools that Mastery has converted to charters since 2005. In just two years, said Gordon, the school has seen its math scores on state tests shoot up about 30 points. Reading scores have gone up about 20 points.  Violence is down, and the school is enrolling and retaining a high number of students from the surrounding community. Other “turnaround” charters run by Mastery have made similar progress.

“These schools are now taking off,” said Gordon. 

But the roughly $8,000 per student that Philadelphia charters will receive this year for regular education students is the “absolute minimum” that Mastery needs to continue its success, he said. 

Like other charter operators, Mastery has had to make painful cuts this year.  At Mann and elsewhere, class sizes were increased by two students per room.  Reading support staff members were let go. Extracurricular activities and supply budgets were pared back.

Like other school leaders, though, Mastery officials say they have been working feverishly to shield students and classrooms from feeling the impact of the cuts.   Teachers still received performance-based pay increases this year and all Mastery students will still get art, music, Spanish and gym.

“We haven’t cut back on the fundamentals we believe every child should get in a well-rounded education,” Gordon said.

The real threat, he said, lies beyond this year. If the cuts go any deeper, Mastery will likely stop growing in Philadelphia and start looking elsewhere.

“We have the ability to serve more kids and to serve the neediest kids,” said Gordon. “All we need is a reasonable reimbursement rate.”

Cutting back, but asking for more

But in the five-year financial plan the District unveiled in April, officials projected that per-pupil spending will remain flat for the next three years, meaning that charters would also see no increases. Reduced spending on charters is a crucial component of the plan to eliminate the District’s projected $1.1 billion cumulative deficit between now and 2017.

Jones of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools (PCPCS ) says that charters that didn’t plan well and small charters with little room to cut will be hurt the most. 

“Probably 60 percent [of charter schools] are freezing salaries,” Jones estimated. 

Others are cutting positions and programming, he said. Some are worried about having to shut down.

“It’s a possibility, specifically for smaller schools,” he said.

Smarter operators saw the storm coming and began planning years ago. Now that the cuts have hit, said Jones, those charters are experimenting with new ways to save money, including online “blended-learning” opportunities for students.

But belt-tightening is just the first step, agreed both Jones and Mastery’s Gordon.

Like traditional school districts, charters also generally want to see more tax dollars go to public education.

Jones said there are low-cost options that the Pennsylvania legislature can approve that would help charters enormously, including a change in how charters pay debt service on bonds. That could save some operators tens of thousands of dollars annually, he said.

PCPCS also supports plans to create a new statewide commission to take a holistic look at the mechanisms of charter funding, he said.

“We want to look at how public education is funded, how the funds are directed, and how they’re spent,” said Jones.  “Are there smarter ways to use the same pot of money?”

But Gordon says that a more aggressive approach may be needed. Mastery is prepared to organize parents and supporters to fight for more funding. 

“I think we will be a lot more vocal in Harrisburg as well as in Philadelphia,” said Gordon.

“We want our voice to be heard.”


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Comments (79)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 1:50 pm

ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, . . How does it feel now that the "specially selected" kids in the precious charters are feeling the cuts? Welcome to my Public school that serves EVERY student's world!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 7:35 am

That's the problem with you bitter people. You cheer when children lose resources.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 9:11 am

I am not "cheering" because children are losing resources, I am meerly stating that now that the lack of resources (money) is affecting the Charter schools, maybe something will be done about it.

Where have the Charter school operators and allies been while the "traditional" schools in Philadelphia have seen our funding slashed and our kids going without, not in a small part due to the fact that we have to pay to fund the charter schools out of our (District's) money?

Now that the Charters are losing funds, they all of a sudden are paying attention and crying about it. They didn't care about a lack of resources when it was my kids doing without and we had to struggle to "make do," just as long as we kept handing over the money to them.

NO children should do without, but we need to be all on the same side and the funding must be allocated equally among all of the kids. I am willing to bet you that the politicians and other organizations who support Charters will now "magically" come up with an increase in funding, the question is, will it only be for the Charter school operators or will we ALL see an increase?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 4:22 pm

No, you were cheering. That's why the public is against the PFT. It's so blatantly obvious that the kids DON'T come first.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 5:02 pm

Cannot even muster an attenpt at a constructive response, eh?
Says more about you than me or the PFT.
"Whatever" - go back to your Charter and tell yourself how great you are. I will waste no more of my time with you

Submitted by John Hill (not verified) on August 31, 2012 11:17 am

Like the poster said, there's no good news here. It does underscore how short-sighted an "I've got mine, I don't care about anybody else" perspective is when it comes to education. There needs to be much more solidarity around the principle that all kids with all levels of need deserve access to quality education, and that the folks providing that education need the resources to do it and adequate compensation to support themselves while doing it.

As I see it, the only reason there's so much animosity between different systems in Philly is because of the conditions of scarcity we operate under where every victory for me is a loss for you and vice-versa. Look at the Catholic system: after years of holding themselves apart from the School District, they're now finding themselves beaten up by the same forces that are tearing the District apart: private foundations are increasingly calling the shots for them and taking over school management, while charters are cutting deep into their enrollments/money. At the same time, they have to root for the collapse of neighborhood schools and voucher money to bring more kids into the system. We're all getting pitted against each other!

The bigger issue is that public institutions (and now even longstanding private institutions serving low-income communities) are getting starved for resources while corporations and the wealthy take everything for themselves. While there might be a few schools that are in bed with enough powerful people to avoid feeling too much pain, the reality is that if we keep going down this path the overwhelming majority of schools will suffer and the overwhelming majority of young people in this city will lose out. And while this goes down, the overwhelming majority of school employees in every school in this city will lose out in terms of wages and benefits, and increasingly have to do more with less.
As long as we fail to watch each others backs and tolerate attacks on education or educators at any of our sites, they will continue to do this to us. It's a shame and a major organizing challenge we'll all have to reckon with.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 7:14 am

They are charters serving public sector students. Read the article correctly Mastery and other charters are serving students from the rennesiance movement which serves the neediest students in the city. Get your facts straight before commenting....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 8:54 am

Unless the student is special ed, a discipline problem, or has low test scores...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 8:35 am

You don't understand. Renaissance charters have a LOCAL catchment area and students previously enrolled are guaranteed placement. Several, like H.R.Edmunds have regional Autism Support classrooms and take even more children with special needs.

Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on September 3, 2012 10:26 am

True - but will Edmunds keep the Austim support classrooms or, like Mastery, only keep them if the SDP pays the bills? What I'm more concerned about is the students who are not in separate classes but those included in regular ed. classes who have many, many emotional and academic needs. Renaissance charters may finds ways to either put them in so-called "Success Academies" like Mastery and Aspira, or send them to neighborhood schools. Mastery, Aspira, String Theory, etc. have contracts for parents. What happens when a student violates the contract? Universal plays games - claims they are "capped." Mastery apparently has 140 students in an on-line program similar to what is done at discipline schools.

We need to be honest about what is happening with students whose behavior is often labeled anti-social, who will not score high enough for a "high performing seat." For all the talk, Mastery and KIPP are not keeping these students in either their programs (KIPP) or with other students (Mastery, Aspira). String Theory has NO experience working in a neighborhood school. The population at their south Philly campus is very different from Edmunds. (String Theory, for example, requires parents to pay for tutoring to stay at their school. ) We will see if String Theory keeps all students or only those who sign the contract. The students who don't comply will go to a neighborhood school - just like the other charters. (Will String Theory use some of their $2 million grant to have an internal "success academy?")

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on September 3, 2012 11:21 am

And, Renaissance Charters (the ones that are supposed to function as "neighborhood schools") have been allowed to cap enrollment and class sizes at a lower level than SDP run schools. Mastery "neighborhood" school have been allowed to cap class sizes at 25 and send "overflow" to other schools. SDP run schools must take up to 33 per class (sometimes more) AND enrollment NEVER closes. That is, kids can come in any time of year. The Ren. Charters have been allowed to "close" enrollment. Why different rules for Renaissance Charters? That is all we want to know.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 1:25 pm

You got more when we got more, now you get less when we get less.
If you can't provide the service then get out of the game.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 1:54 pm

Did anyone ask Scott Gordon if he is going to make his voice heard for all Philadelphia students or just charter school students? Mastery receives considerable grant funding - will he share that pot? The move to strip local school districts of any say over charter creation / expansion will implode many school districts - not just Philadelphia. The cyber charters are already out of control.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on August 30, 2012 1:02 pm

Hi Annonymous,

Thanks for the question.  Asked about Mastery's relationship with the District in terms of responding to buget cuts, Mr. Gordon said this: 

"We have common ground.  The cuts are affecting everyone in education: charter, District, Renaissance charter. We should all be working together."


Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 3:36 pm

Thank you for responding.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 4:57 pm

This common ground coming from the same person who said, "We teach the same kids as the public schools, ONLY THE ADULTS ARE DIFFERENT."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 1:57 pm

If the charters already get more money than district schools, why are they even complaining? Can you answer me that?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 10:41 pm

Yes that's an easy one. It's the other way around. Charters get less, not more.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 1:45 pm

Watch Corbett and Republican Legislators will raise the money going to charters. They have to protect that new source of campaign fiance.

Submitted by Susan DeJarnatt (not verified) on August 30, 2012 2:14 pm

Welcome to our world, Scott Gordon and Lawrence Jones! Where were you when last year's budget cuts were being fought? I'm glad to see Gordon talking about working together--but it is a little late. The charter school folks need to realize that their financial fate is tied to the public schools--and if they really join the fight for more resources for all children, great. But the story of Chester-Upland is not heartening--the charter school operators sued to demand their money without any show of concern for the kids in the traditional schools. I hope that story in not repeated in financially distressed districts across Pennsylvania but I am not all that optimistic.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on August 30, 2012 2:37 pm

The charters exist for one purpose, to destroy collective bargaining for public school teachers. Harrisburg has never funded urban schools the way wealthier districts are funded, and this has not changed for private owners.

Even with their drain of public school funds, the charters can't make it. Notice how charters see the solution to their financial problems is to freeze the pay of their employees and increase class size? This is what is wanted in all schools, to have power to dictate salaries and working conditions.

Have the CEO's also frozen their salary? We don't know because what they are paid is not public knowledge.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 30, 2012 4:28 pm

Of course, you are right, it is about destroying workers' rights and democrats in general. Hopefully, IF we can survive Corbett, folks will vote in the next election for Governor. Of course, if Romney gets in, it's all a moot point anyway. This is an extremely dangerous time and I've been around for 55 years.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 3:59 pm

Are the the charter schools going to cut their profit margins?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 4:58 pm

How dare you ask that. That is confidential between the Job creator and his God.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 30, 2012 5:27 pm

Don't buy into any of this poor mouth garbage. Charters are very, very valuable for the Republicans as they are used as torpedoes against the inner cities, comprised mostly of poor and middle class persons who predominately voted democratic. The real goal is to destroy workers' rights and turn back the clock.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 3:24 pm

“We want our voice to be heard.” Join the club (public schools) and take a number!

Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on August 30, 2012 4:00 pm

Cry me a river!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 4:21 pm

Interesting, now charter schools are being hit...They could ask Ms. Winfrey for money, didn't she give Mastery Charter Schools one million dollars last year or the year before since she loves Mastery Charter Schools. Are the CEO's and top level administrators going to take a pay cut? Frankly, I think that all of these top level administrators across the board are paid entirely too much money. Many of them making near what the office of President of the United States makes for governing the United States and handling foreign affairs. I believe that everyone should make an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, but when CEO's and top level administrators make $200,000 and more a year, while those who work in the field are paid pennies, something is wrong with that picture.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 5:30 pm

I agree CEOs - including Hite, head of Franklintown Charter, Gordon, Booker - head of Global leadership Charter, etc. - make too much. That said, since George W. Bush - #42 - the salary jumped to $400,000. Pennies in the world of corporate CEOs but similar to what the head of WHYY makes...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 7:41 pm

I agree, Hite is going to make $300,000 plus perks and whatever else that they manage to give to him. That's just $100,000 less than what the president of the United States makes and he has more responsibility on him than a school superindentent or CEO, or top administrator has on them. That is just crazy. Yet, the people who teach children, many of which use their salaries to buy supplies for their classrooms, in some instances assist the parents of the children that they teach because they need help, aren't paid what they should be paid and people have the nerve to say that teachers are paid too much. Give me a break. There is just something wrong with this picture.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 31, 2012 11:45 am

Something is very wrong. This 2012 not 1912. If Corbett, Romney and the rest, had their way, we would return to the days of old where Corporations controlled EVERYTHING related to money. Get ready for it unless we stop it and time is not on our side.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 5:30 pm

This is the same Mastery Charter Corporation that tried to get rid of a multiple disability class because it would cost too much. The SDP negotiated - and since it looked bad - Mastery kept the class because the SDP is giving them additional funding to pay for the class. Gordon talks out of both sides of his mouth. Let the teachers at Mastery get due process, end 'at will" employment, etc. Let Mastery not have money flowing to fix every building while many of us work in schools which have not had any noticeable repairs in decades. (Yes, we the teachers and the students who suffer in the buildings.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 6:49 pm

I would love to hear their voices on all of their finances, including salaries of CEOs and top administration. I would love to hear their voices on admissions policies. I would love to hear their voices on teacher retention. I would love to hear their voices on how many students they "counsel out" each year.

We're listening.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 7:16 pm

The average salary for charter CEO's in Philly is $11,000 less than that of district high school Principals. Admissions and counseling students out vary from school to school, but when those practices agree discovered the authorizer (school district) should step in with sanctions the law affords. Teacher retention is an issue in all public schools. Charters do not benefit for
Turn over. Despite myths to the contrary, training and recruiting costs outweigh salary savings. Don't judge all charters by myths and the actions of a few. , Don't confuse public education with school districts. Districts are just one delivery system for public education. Finally, abandon your anti-charter campaign for a call for true accountability in all public education. Waste, fraud, and inadequate funding were issues long before charters.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 30, 2012 7:29 pm

Show me the check stubs. I would love to see this.

Submitted by Rob (not verified) on August 30, 2012 10:14 pm

I scond that. I would love to know where you get your facts. This sounds like a Mitt Romney tax claim

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 11:13 am

YES! Let's stop blaming charters for the demise of the school district and look instead at the politicians who have pitted educators against one another while making life harder for everyone. Charter schools ARE public schools! We are all fighting for the same thing here!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 9:43 am

Just like us non-reps maybe they can forgo several years of pay increases, handle a pay cut and furlow days and additional cost of medical insurance.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 10:15 am

Charter School CEO/CAO pay can be found at
In the 'County' field select 'Philadelphia' and 'Job' select 'Chief Administrative Officer (charter schools only)' and Search. Click the column heading for 'Total Salary' to sort by salary. The top 10 are all 160-220K per year, well above typical Principal pay at the SDP and note that this data is from 2010-2011 and outdated. These small charter school CAO/CEO salaries are comparable to Superintendents at large Districts with thousands of students and numerous schools. While the CAO/CEO are making these inflated salaries the typical teacher pay at these charters is 15-25K lower than at the SDP. At the charter where I work the CAO/CEO received double-digit pay raises the last several years even when we failed to make AYP. We also have 4 admins in a school of less than 800 students. Meanwhile teachers got 2-3 percent increases and of course we have no union, no contracts, no representation, at-will employment. The school crushed our attempt at unionizing last year by hiring union-busting lawyers and conducting mandatory disinformation and intimidation meetings and by firing one of the organizers. The school board meetings are effectively closed from the public and staff by actively discouraging participation and bare minimal notice and advertising. Did I mention the board is self-appointed and apparently serving for lifetime terms in violation of our charter? Any cuts at these charters should start at the top before impacting educational programs and student services. If only there was actual oversight, regulation, and accountability for these charter schools...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 11:13 am

The information is true, but the lowest THIRTY CEO salaries are far less than typical Principal at the SDP. Isn't the SDP responsible for providing oversight, regulation, and accountability? To be fair, can we judge all charters on the actions of a few schools? Don't charters have to get new charters every few years? Has the district reviewed and approved your school?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 3:20 pm

I encourage all to check out the site for themselves and do their own analysis of the salaries of Charter vs SDP for both administrators and teachers and draw their own conclusions. The Charter model seems to be to highly compensate at the top at the expense of the rank and file teachers and staff. And again the salaries listed do not show the ratio of administrators to students per school. As for oversight while the SDP is technically 'responsible' for oversight they are ill equipped for this task with a skeleton staff and budget at the SDP Charter office and 80+ schools to manage. The Charter renewal process or too long in many cases has been a cursory review and rubber stamp approval although there has been some recent improvement. The SRC needs to fully embrace and engage the reforms to Charter oversight recommended by the Phila Controller Alan Butkovitz in his 2010 report.
Unfortunately the legislative drive is on in Harrisburg to shift Charter authorization and oversight power from the local District to the State which would make the SDP pay for continued Charter expansion without any control over their creation. Sounds like 'taxation without representation' to me.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 1:07 pm

how many district schools could survive the charter renewal process? i challenge mr. hite to put his schools from a detailed evaluation every five years and recommend that those who don't pass muster to be closed.

Submitted by Concerned Philadelphian (not verified) on September 1, 2012 1:17 pm

Many charters with low scores (8 out of 10 with 1 being the best) were renewed. Charters with histories of extensive corruption have been renewed. Without the 5 year renewal, I assume the corruption would not be detected. Even with the renewal, there is limited transparency. It was obvious that Darden was doing the work of the charter operators. There are a few good charter schools in Philly - mostly independent versus run by operators - but there are also good neighborhood schools.

It looks like Hite will be running all schools. If neighborhood schools are given autonomy just like charters, lets see what happens. Then, charters need to let their staff unionize so there is more transparency and challenge the blatant nepotism in hiring. Granted, Penny Nixon is the queen of nepotism but at least teachers are not hired based on their connections and family name. Hiring ones friends is rampant in some charters.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 4, 2012 12:12 am

Um, hiring one's friends is still pretty common in the SDP. It's not present at the entry level, but once you are in the door, politics/personal relations/you know make all the difference. Important position in most schools (i.e. deans/Academy Leaders; roster chairs; etc.) are commonly determined by fairly blatant favoritism.

There's really no way to prevent bad leaders from ruining a school, so I'm in favor of giving school leaders the power to run the school as they fit. Then, at least good leaders won't be stymied by the District when they are trying to make improvements.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 2:36 pm

for the sake of accuracy,on 8 elementary/middle and one high school charters have the low scores you attribute to "many." i strongly agree that neighborhood schools should have the autonomy that charters have. I personally don't think it will make a difference in the high schools. but, the teacher and principal unions would never agree to that. It would result in less jobs and less demand for union representation. right now the union's value is to keep the workers safe from the beauracratic beast. local authority would reduce the need for that proctection. what charters have come to understand is that schools work for the parents. there will have to be a significant attitudinal change before district employees understand that.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on September 1, 2012 4:58 pm

What is the source of your information that there are 8 charters with low scores?

Submitted by Another Philadelphia citizen (not verified) on September 1, 2012 5:08 pm

As a percentage of schools, those with an 7 or higher (with 1 being the best) is not very different from charters versus SDP schools. There are far fewer charters so raw numbers don't tell the tale.

That said, I found your argument a bit difficult to follow - I assume you are typing on a cell phone. Are you claiming "local authority" (e.g. charter authority/board/administration) requires less worker protection? How is that the case with at will employees? How are teachers/staff assured that their pay is equitable versus based on the whims of the administration/charter board? I have seen a "well respected" charter trash a teacher for little cause other than s/he privately raised some issues. Parents rallied behind the teacher but the board/administration would not budge. This teacher was also at the top of the charters pay scale.

School do not only work "for the parents." Schools need to work for the community which includes parents, staff, students, other community members, etc. While there may be a need for some attitudinal change on the part of some staff in the SDP, there certainly are many teachers who work with families despite the nonsense at 440.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 5:54 pm

hey, you brought up the charters as if they perform worse than district schools. that's not the case. the numbers say your schools are worse. now we're talking about the SPI here so what does it all mean anyway? to your point about "worker protection" my experience is that nobody with good sense fires a needed employee. that being said, experience can be overrated. and when it comes to district teachers, it often is. if you've taught 3rd grade for 20 years, you may not be as valuables you think. in a union shop, no one will tell you that. there are financial limits to what a school district can afford. big city teachers unions keep those difficult conversations from happening. the teachers work for the parents in charter schools. parents can take their child and go elsewhere. when you have a monopoly, you don't feel that way. we won't agree on this, but i do wish you a great school year. we all work for the children. i hope you agree with that.

Submitted by Another Philadelphia citizen (not verified) on September 1, 2012 6:28 pm

There are charters that suck - are test prep factories and nothing more - and there are SDP schools that suck because of the hideous test prep factories they have become under Vallas and Ackerman.

Unions have enabled workers to earn a living wage. Does it cost - sure. In Lower Merion, Council Rock, Cheltenham, etc. they are willing to pay for a unionized, professional teacher. Why not in urban schools? Parent can leave a neighborhood school - and do - all the time. Charter operators like Mastery already have monopolies - otherwise they wouldn't think their "model" can be copied.

I work with students for the benefit of the individual student, groups of students, their families, and my community. I've had enough incompetent and vindictive administrators to not trust any so I want at least basic union protection. You seem extremely confident. Lets see where you are in 20 years.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 6:00 pm

if you want more money why not teach in lower merion? philly is fiscally challenged, you get theackermans and hornbecks, and it's probably not changing soon. you can start your own school,but that doesn'tseem like you. you may be on the wrong side of history.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on September 2, 2012 12:00 am

So I guess we can assume you are young. Anyone with 20 years with the system would not say "experience" can be overrated. If you are a teacher, don't you know you are becoming what you are prejudiced against? Do you really want to spend your career having your job be at the whim of any administrator without due process? It took a lot of sacrifice and struggle for teachers to get collective bargaining. Do you really want to go back to the way it was before when teacher's could be fired for petty reasons or just because a new teacher gets paid less? If you lose seniority protections you may find out you "are not as valuables as you think."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 12:48 am

i'm not new. I just don't share your coal miner's mentality. quite frankly, i would never trust my professional prospects to the likes of jerry jordan. how's that working for you?

Submitted by Ken Derstine on September 2, 2012 1:05 am

No one's saying you have to trust Jerry Jordan, but we better find a leader soon or we're going to lose a lot and have a big fight on our hands to get it back.

Submitted by Another Philadelphia citizen (not verified) on September 2, 2012 6:37 am

What is a "coal miner mentality?" Do you have disdain for unionized, blue collar workers? I have done many jobs in my life - some which may be "below" you - and know what it is like to have no union protection. Although I was never "let go," I saw some others let go to make the boss look good. The same would happen more often with administrators. There are far too many administrators with little teaching experience who bask in their power. This includes administrators in charter schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 7:33 am

I never said I had disdain for unions. unskilled labor unions are important and have their place. i think your union is worthless. I also think it is difficult to call yourself a professional when you're represented by a union. for all the so-called job security you gain from being in a teachers union, i think you lose in salary (if you're good at it), collegial quality, and useless work rules when you join your union. i think your union doesn't serve your interests well. but, i do understand that the management approach of some regimes down there could make you feel like you need the support of a union. now unionized principals, that really makes me gag. you can't have unionized management. it doesn't make sense. professional unions are political in nature. there is nocoinicidence tha 1 in 5 delegates in the democrat convention will be a teacher. you overpower the blue collar workers. it also gives you tremendous power. that's why you got your raise while the blue collar workers went begging.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 4:12 pm

school district website:
these conversations are much more productive when we're all working with the same data. maybe some of the other posters making assertions will reveal their sources, or is that only required of charter supporters?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 6:01 pm

Don't believe any of this nonsense. It's all a smokescreen. It's the land of make believe to make everybody look the same with a level playing field. It's a crock.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 6:10 am

I have more than 20 years in and don't believe experience is all it is cracked up to be. I have had to find ways to reinvent myself, my classroom, and my approach with students because students and the world are constantly changing. To see colleagues with the same lesson plans recycled year to year, talking bout how they have trouble with email and technology was pathetic. It's our job to stay current and our responsibility to be relevant. That's why I left and went to a charter for a couple years. I didn't make as much, but it was close. I got to teach and experience new ideas (even got to give new ideas). I saw a good building, books, computers, and supplies and realized that maybe that was part of why my salary was lower. I left to follow another opportunity that is still related to teaching, but sure do miss the classroom, especially my last two years.

Submitted by Another Philadelphia citizen (not verified) on September 2, 2012 7:49 am

I agree there is dead weight - teachers who do not keep up with their content area no less with students. A good administrator would push them to do more. Unfortunately, many administrators don't keep up with anything. That said, if your school had a good team, they should be creating a School Improvement Plan (SIP) every year which responds to students needs and puts together a viable plan. Under Ackerman, "empowerment" schools had no choice. (I assume Promise Academies have even less choices.) With autonomy, schools should be able to develop plans which meet their students needs. The lack of supplies is endemic in the SDP. I know no one at 440 is buying reams of paper, chart paper, a printer, calculators, etc. At neighborhood schools, it often comes out of our pockets. I've never had an administrator who did the same even though they make six figures.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 10:45 am

How is it possible that there are no supplies in schools, but 440 looks like a palace?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 10:42 am

440 N. Broad is half empty. Yet close by is the unused former William Penn High School which would be an appropriate administration building for a school district in financial crisis. 440 is a monument to the SRC and their high paid school administrators. It makes them feel important.

Submitted by Another Philadelphia citizen (not verified) on September 2, 2012 1:42 pm

440 is a monument to Vallas. (Whatever happened to 21st St.? Condos?) He said he wanted everything under one roof. Guess that is easy to accomplish now.

Williams Penn, with its underground garage, should be a no "brainer" for developers along north Broad St. Has there been any progress on selling West Philly at 47th ST? That location should sell. What will they do next year when there are many other empty buildings? They don't charge charters rent (Darden said they couldn't) - only for salaries for staff to maintain the buildings. If buildings aren't sold, the SDP has more debt. Some buildings are a mess (e.g. Bok, Frankford) while others are nearly empty (e.g. Ben Franklin, Southern)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 7:42 pm

Yes, I, too was under the mind set that 440 should be sold, however, I have learned that the School District does not own 440, therefore they can't sell it. 440 is under a 20 year bond to the School District. Perhaps someone could explain to others what that actually means.

To me, it would make more sense to fix up a building that is owned by the School District that is empty or going to be empty and put those folks who are at 440 there since 440 is no longer being used at it's full capacity.

Things are bad and are probably going to get worse...There are schools which don't have enough textbooks or up to date textbooks, teachers are buying materials to use teach the children with because alledgedly there aren't supplies available (but I bet there are supplies, hidden in schools and downtown at 440.) And people who aren't in education, complain and say that teachers are paid too much, they need to get real.

Prepare for the worse...At the end of this school year when the teacher's contracts are up, it's going to be a real mess. Prepare now!

Submitted by Another Philadelphia citizen (not verified) on September 2, 2012 7:00 pm

I wouldn't fix any building. We work in schools that are run down, have no AC (and the heat blasts in the winter), paint is pealing off the walls, roofs leak, etc. Why can't 440 work under the same conditions student learn in day in and day out?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 8:30 pm

Your right, they should work under the same conditions that children, teachers and staff have to work under on a daily basis from September to June, but you know and I know, they won't.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 10:28 am

Or even more to the point, "Why can't 440 work?"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 2:55 pm

It's a waste of money to continue to use 440, to heat, to cool, to light up, to staff, when there are School District buildings that are owned by the School District sitting empty or darn near empty that could be used. No, the other buildings aren't plush like 440, but we are in the business of educating children, not to have a small staff of people, sitting comfortable every day. But, don't know if 440 cannot be used because it is under a twenty year bond.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 12:16 pm

Impotent or important?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 10:34 am

If you want the Charter Schools to work under the same conditions, then fund them the same as public schools NOT at 80%.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 10:58 am

You want "full funding" then demand that ALL charters serve the "full population". No more "cherry-picking". No more "counseling out". Why does Kenny Gamble get a school for free while other charters have to pay for theirs?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 10:25 am

I'm sorry your buildings are falling apart , just another reason for children to attend Charter Schools!

Submitted by Concerned Phila. (not verified) on September 3, 2012 10:25 am

The more important question is why are charter buildings, at least in some cases, in better shape? Why does Mastery get millions every time is opens a school for repairs? Why did Universal get a brand new building for free? How many SDP schools will be closed and turned over a charter who is given millions to fix a building that the SDP could have fixed?

Some charters are innovative - the intention of charters - but most have become no different from other schools focused on test scores. It is creating a multi-tier system where some students get many more opportunities than others. Scott Gordon sends his children to Quaker schools - they are not getting test prep, 7 step lessons, drill/kill, etc. Rather than 21st century learning, we are repeating the segregation of students of the early 20th century.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 4:29 pm

The more money that the public schools cut/save, the more money the charter schools get & spend.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 4:10 pm

The more money that the public schools cut/save, the more money the charter schools get & spend.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on September 3, 2012 4:58 pm

People can look up salaries at However, I believe these may be current only as of 2010-2011. Having observed at one of Mastery's schools, I know that they have many administrators. They have a principal and assistant principals of operations, instruction, culture, and specialized services/special education. They also have deans, which vary in number according to the school. They also have apprentice school leaders (ASLs) for the positions of principal or assistant principal. I am unsure how they are able to support so many adults. My understanding is that they pay teachers better than most charters, but not as well as the District. Mastery must fundraise in order to support the number of adults that they have. I think that every school should have that many adults. Unfortunately, Philadelphia is a poor city and the state is not willing to provide Philadelphia with more aid in order to fund it in the same way it funds suburban districts.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 5:06 pm

For what it's worth, the families of William Penn students were promised that the school would not be closed permanently but reopened after major repairs were made. Of course, that promise was made by Ackerman, so I wouldn't take it to the bank. Still, it is a consideration when considering it as a new HQ.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 4, 2012 12:36 am

I think that re-opening ANY schools is pretty unlikely. You can dispute exactly how "seats" are counted and so forth, but the SDP has fewer students now than it used to, and has closed remarkably few schools during that decline in enrollment. Especially neighborhood high schools, many of which have seen dramatic enrollment decreases over the past 5-7 years. So re-opening one would seem very odd. But it's the SDP, so re-opening one school while closing others wouldn't be the strangest thing that's happened.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 24, 2013 2:25 am
This blog was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Appreciate it!
Submitted by sfp cable (not verified) on May 24, 2013 2:37 am
For what it's worth, the families of William Penn students were promised that the school would not be closed permanently but reopened after major repairs were made. Of course, that promise was made by Ackerman, so I wouldn't take it to the bank. Still, it is a consideration when considering it as a new HQ.

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